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Dresses, fancy bags and footwear make big retail comeback

Shoppers are dressing up again for special occasions.

The resumption of weddings and other special outside-the-home occasions is having an impact on sales of apparel and footwear — for men and women.

U.S. sales revenue for women’s dresses grew by 42%, year over year, from January through May 2022, according to The NPD Group. Dress sales were also 14% higher than they were before the pandemic in 2019.   

“Dresses are making a strong comeback, after being one of the most hard-hit areas of the apparel market when the pandemic began,” said Maria Rugolo,  apparel industry analyst at NPD. “The trend today is on both sides of the spectrum: the casual and the ultra-dressy.”

Almost one-third of U.S. consumers are purchasing dresses for an evening or special occasion, according to the Consumer Tracking Service from NPD. And 14% plan to attend a wedding this summer, based on findings from an NPD survey conducted in conjunction with CivicScience.  

On the men’s side of the aisle, sales revenue for sportscoats grew by 32%, versus last year, and surpassed 2019 levels.   “Hybrid styles that can be worn for work, weekends, and weddings are winning the most on the men’s dressy side of the business,” said Rugolo. “Suit sales are yet to recover, as consumers are favoring more versatile, mix-and-match options.”


Footwear trends are following in apparel’s footsteps. This year, high heels have gained market share at the expense of lower heel heights, as women buy shoes to wear for special occasions.

“Dress footwear sales are also shifting away from pumps — a more conservative and work-oriented style — to open-toe sandals, which are more occasion-oriented,” said Beth Goldstein,  fashion footwear and accessories analyst at NPD.

Tying the wardrobe together, sales of evening bags grew faster than the rest of the handbag market this year, versus last year. Evening bags recovered to 2019 levels, in terms of both revenue and unit sales, according to the Retail Tracking Service from NPD. 

Men are also homing in on hybrid styles when it comes to their dress footwear: The sneaker bottom style now captures about one-third of the sales revenue for men’s oxfords, drivers, and loafers, compared to less than 20% in 2019, according to NPD Retail Tracking data.

“Although still not back to pre-pandemic sales levels, men’s dress footwear is showing a strong recovery and is the fastest-growing area of the men’s market, comping against a particularly challenged year,” said Goldstein.

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